Feb 12, 2009

It starts with birth and ends with death

In the fall of 2001, a well-intentioned Chesterfield suburbanite with dreams of homesteading bought three Nubian goats, two does and a buck, from a farm in Tidewater. This was the beginning of the herd of goats who would supply the milk for Wild Heaven Farm's handmade goat milk soaps. The buck, Big Chief (slightly silly registered name: Belle Rive Rainbow Warrior), passed away a few years ago, when wet weather conditions made intestinal parasite populations burst out of control. We were lucky only to have lost Chief and two young females that year; a meat goat farmers I know in the 434 saw her's die faster than she could bury them, which eventually necessitated a backhoe. Sadly last night, another of the O.G.s (“original goats”) died.

Kidding season for 2009 had started well enough. Our herd queen Dierdre gave us two big healthy doelings, who took to the bottle straight away and didn't give me a lick of trouble between being born and going off to their new home with the just-had-a-human-baby-the-same-week Woods family. Their names were Cin-Cin and Eviva, pictured below.

A week later, ostensibly on the day the first babies left, Ceres was laying around in the apparent discomfort usually associated with labor, but there were no contractions. A call to the nearest goat vet (“nearest” being almost in Montpelier) put us on to pregnancy toxemia, for which I ran to Southern States for supplements that were the nearest approximation to what I needed. When your farm is in the middle of the 'burbs, you get used to feed stores with limited supplies. In the past few years, we've also had to get used to a limited number of feed stores, with the two closest ones, included one I worked at briefly, closing. Ceres got glucose, electrolytes, B12, and active cultures for digestion, with my sincere hope that she'd have the vigor for labor when it actually came.

Labor, as it turned out, came in the pre-dawn hours the following morning. A glance out the kitchen window revealed a prone Ceres and a standing kid, named Prieka (below), being looked after by Dierdre, with her overflowing of maternal instinct.

That overabundance which often leads her to steal babies from other goats was a real blessing to us this year, because Ceres couldn't get up to tend Prieka herself. She was flat on her side with a prolapsed uterus, meaning that during or after giving birth, her uterus had inverted and was now laying on the ground behind her. A quick Google image search confirmed my hypothesis and no extra research was needed to tell me this was well beyond our ability to fix. We called Dr B.J. Campbell, DVM, explained the situation and asked her to come out.

If you're squeamish at all, you might want to scroll past the next picture with your eyes very much squinted. We propped Ceres back end up on a bale of hay and Dr Campbell replaced her uterus. She also injected Ceres with calcium, the dearth of which is blamed as the cause of the problem, and a schload of other things.

Two and a half hours and $313 later, Dr Campbell left me with antibiotic, painkiller, oxytocin to tighten the uterus and a gritty nutritious supplement. We also started giving the other does mineral supplements with calcium in hopes of preventing a repeat of this happy happy joy joy fun.

If you've never tried to forcefully syringe feed an adult goat and the opportunity presents itself, I suggest you give it a miss and go on to something easier, like shaving a coked-up ferret. Poor weakened Ceres had just enough strength to give me the business when I tried to feed her the gritty nutritive water that the vet called simply “green stuff.” She had also began a good chesty cough that fateful day, so there was also the concern of her aspirating the green stuff as I wrestled her head back and squirted it down her throat. Making things worse, every two or three squirts of the big fat syringe caused it to clog up with the finely chopped alfalfa that gave green stuff its moniker. Periodically, she'd nibble at food, but never really ate, per se, even when I brought her a fat armload of English ivy I scavenged from the job of chainsawing a dead tree that had fallen from our property onto a neighbor's erstwhile vertical chain-link fence. That's the dichotomy of my day – bottle-feeding tiny baby goats one minute, lumberjacking the next.

It was Sunday when Ceres kidded and for the next three days she just got weaker and weaker, refusing to eat or even drink. The force-feeding put tremendous stress on her. Wednesday, she couldn't or wouldn't walk. Dr Thomas Rohlk at Old Dominion Animal Hospital, a gentleman and a scholar, sold me four liters of lactates ringers saline and an IV line with needles to subcutaneously rehydrate Ceres. I sequestered her in my cozy six-by-seven milking parlor with a board blocking the door, but it was hardly necessary. She didn't move. Even when she tried, she couldn't stand or squirm far enough to endanger the IV. Later that afternoon, I got her to take a little yogurt (for its calcium, cultures, and sugar), which she had refused outright in the previous two days. At evening chores, I was able to get the whole pint of green stuff into her, a frightening circumstance because it meant she lacked the power to fight or do anything more than low quietly in between syringes. A few hours later, she laid her head down and died.

Digging a shallow grave by moonlight with a single accomplice holding a flashlight didn't make me feel as much like a mafiosa as I would have thought. I can think of four different ways in which her death is ultimately my fault, but my wonderful husband, who took over the harder parts of the burial while I feed the kids, pointed out to me the awful luck this goat had been afflicted with, luck bad enough to rival his own. Ceres was totally blind in one eye (which I attempt to show the photographer below) and mostly blind in the other, she was always the goat who got injured when something bad happened, showing up for milking on at least two occasions with a huge, bright red bleeding idopathic wound to her udder, and she had had two set of stillborn triplets. I acknowledged his point, but can't let myself off the hook.

Like any other farm, we've lost babies and few yearlings over the years, but this is only the second time we've lost a full-grown goat, animals I've worked with every day for several years. While it doesn't pain you like loosing a beloved pet, there is sadness here. I've decided to keep the doeling Prieka, who will be bred next year to the Nubian buckling I hope to buy soon and give to Dierdre to raise, which will give him rank and privilege in our herd.

Deep breath. Thanks for listening.

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